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The waiting list for council housing in England will almost double to two million people next year, amid alarming figures suggesting that hundreds of thousands are already facing the threat of eviction as a result of the Covid-19 fallout.
With evidence that renters on low incomes are using up their limited savings, cutting back on essentials and borrowing money to stay afloat, a new analysis warns that the waiting list for council houses in England will exceed its peak following the 2008 financial crisis as more and more people are unable to afford their homes.
The warning is contained in a study commissioned by the Local Government Association (LGA) and social housing groups. They are calling for a big increase in social housing construction to deal with the crisis.
Another study has highlighted the growing number of people facing rent arrears, which are estimated to total £400m in England and Wales. Around 2.5m households across the UK are worried about paying their rent over the winter and 700,000 are already in arrears, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).
It found 350,000 households have been served an eviction notice or spoken to about eviction by their landlord, raising the prospect of an uncertain winter for thousands of families.
Thangam Debbonaire, the shadow housing secretary, said the latest findings revealed “the scale of the crisis hitting renters right now”. She said: “An estimated 700,000 households are in rent arrears. For comparison, that is more than the total number of households in Birmingham and Sheffield combined. Around half of these households are two months behind – in England that means courts would be forced to automatically grant repossession orders.
“These numbers should shock government ministers into action. They need to make real changes to housing law and the benefits system so they can keep their promise, that ‘no-one will lose their home because of this crisis’.”
Helen Barnard, director at the JRF, said: “Millions of people are anxious about paying the rent over winter, having run down their limited savings, reduced their spending and borrowed from friends, family or the bank. The worrying number of households already in arrears shows renters are running out of options. Without action we could see a wave of evictions and a surge in homelessness over the winter.”
The JRF’s latest research, published this weekend, found high proportions of renters who were already reducing spending on essentials. Of those cutting their spending, 70% were spending less on food and 49% were spending less on heating and electricity. For those with children, 39% were spending less on children’s food and nappies.
The charity is calling for a strict ban on evictions, together with targeted support for rent arrears to prevent a surge of evictions in the spring. While government guidance states bailiffs will not be used before 11 January in England, campaigners worry that this protection may not be legally binding and may not be well understood by households vulnerable to eviction.
“Without action which seeks to address growing arrears, any ban on eviction or enforcement only kicks the can down the road, with renters vulnerable to losing their homes again as restrictions are lifted,” said Barnard. “A targeted package of support to address high rent arrears will give renters and landlords much needed breathing space as we continue to weather the storm.”
Polly Neate, chief executive of the charity Shelter, said the threat of losing their home and financial ruin “is very much looming large for a lot of people”.
“Our advisers are steeling themselves for a bleak winter of helping people try to cope with job losses, evictions and homelessness. The government must do everything it can to prevent more people becoming homeless by giving renters emergency relief to clear unexpected Covid arrears before it’s too late. This unfolding crisis has also brought the lack of secure, social homes into stark relief,” Neate said.
The LGA, the Association of Retained Council Housing and the National Federation of Arm’s-length management organisations (Almos), which manage council and social housing, are demanding that the government sanction the construction of 100,000 properties for cheaper social housing a year as part of its house-building plans. They say it would also deliver a £14.5bn boost to the economy by helping the struggling construction sector.
David Renard, the Tory leader of Swindon council and the LGA’s housing spokesperson, said: “With the number of people on council housing waiting lists set to double, it is absolutely vital that we build more housing for social rent. Building 100,000 social homes for rent a year would bring significant social and economic benefits, from tackling our housing crisis and reducing rising levels of homelessness to wiping millions off welfare bills.”
Chloe Fletcher, policy director of the National Federation of Almos, said those in social housing also had better access to help if they got into financial trouble, adding: “All the evidence shows that councils and those who have Almo partners are perfectly placed to deliver the wrap-around help – with finances, debt, health support, employment and retraining – that so many will desperately need, alongside sufficient good housing, as we recover from the pandemic fallout.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said it did not “recognise these claims” about affordable housing levels, adding: “We’re increasing the supply of affordable housing with the biggest single funding commitment to affordable housing in a decade.
“We’ve taken unprecedented action to protect tenants during the pandemic including a six-month ban on evictions and financial support to help those struggling to pay their rent. Renters will continue to be protected through winter with measures, including six-month notice periods and asking for bailiffs not to enforce evictions except in the most serious circumstances, such as antisocial behaviour and fraud.”
Source: The Guardian
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